UPDATE: On May 22, the Senate adopted the amendment by a vote of 39-0. That increases the MLAC appropriation in the Senate budget to $24 million.
Sens. Creem and Eldridge file amendment to Senate budget for $2M funding increase
BOSTON, May 9, 2019—Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair Jamie Eldridge have filed an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding by $2 million, for total funding of $24 million in the Senate budget.
The Senate Ways and Means budget recommendation includes $22 million in funding for civil legal aid. That’s an increase of $1 million over FY19, but falls short of the $26 million in civil legal aid funding requested by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation for FY20.
“Civil legal aid is a lifeline for the most vulnerable people in Massachusetts when they are facing complex, high-stakes legal issues, such as eviction, domestic violence, access to healthcare or education, or immigration matters,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “I’m grateful that the Senate Ways and Means Committee recognized the vital role civil legal aid plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income people by providing a $1 million increase in funding. However, given the substantial unmet need for civil legal services, we support the amendment sponsored by Senators Creem and Eldridge to seek additional funding to serve more people in need.”
Due to lack of funding, legal aid organizations in Massachusetts are forced to turn away the majority of eligible residents who seek help each year. Eligible residents are those with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level, or $32,188 per year for a family of four.
Civil legal aid organizations funded by MLAC closed more than 22,000 cases in FY18, benefitting more than 95,000 clients and their family members. These cases also produced more than $60 million in economic benefits for the Commonwealth and its residents. These benefits were the direct result of civil legal services that helped to: reduce evictions and prevent homelessness; recover and secure public benefits; and gain employment authorization for immigrants, in addition to other benefits. (Read more about the report here.)
“When a person’s most basic needs are at risk, access to legal advice and representation is essential,” Parker said. “We applaud this amendment and urge other senators to show their support for it to help assure equal access to justice for all people.”
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item is 0321-1600. In April, the House of Representatives allocated $23.5 million for civil legal aid in its FY20 budget.
About MLAC: The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice, and representation.